The term meditation refers to a group of techniques, most of
which started in Eastern religious or spiritual traditions. These
techniques have been used by many different cultures throughout the
world for thousands of years. Today, many people use meditation outside
of its traditional religious or cultural settings, for health and
In meditation, a person learns to focus his
attention and suspend
the stream of thoughts that normally occupy the mind. This practice is
believed to result in a state of greater physical relaxation, mental
calmness, and psychological balance. Practicing meditation can change
how a person relates to the flow of emotions and thoughts in the mind.
Most types of meditation have four elements
Meditation is practiced both on its own and as a component of some
other therapies, such as yoga, tai chi, and qi gong¹.
This Backgrounder focuses on meditation practiced on its own.
- A quiet location. Many meditators
prefer a quiet place with
as few distractions as possible. This can be particularly helpful for
beginners. People who have been practicing meditation for a longer
period of time sometimes develop the ability to meditate in public
places, like waiting rooms or buses.
- A specific, comfortable posture.
Depending on the
type being practiced, meditation can be done while sitting, lying down,
standing, walking, or in other positions.
- A focus of attention.
Focusing one's attention is
usually a part of meditation. For example, the meditator may focus on a
mantra (a specially chosen word or set of words), an object, or the
- An open attitude. Having
an open attitude during
meditation means letting distractions come and go naturally without
stopping to think about them. When distracting or wandering thoughts
occur, they are not suppressed; instead, the meditator gently brings
attention back to the focus. In some types of meditation, the meditator
learns to observe the rising and falling of thoughts and emotions as
they spontaneously occur.
Mindfulness meditation and the
Transcendental Meditation technique
(also known as TM) are two common approaches to meditation. They are
also two types of meditation being studied in NCCAM-sponsored research
Mindfulness meditation originated in
Buddhism. It is based on the
concept of being mindful, or having an increased awareness and total
acceptance of the present. While meditating, the meditator is taught to
bring all her attention to the sensation of the flow of the breath in
and out of the body. The intent might be described as focusing
attention on what is being experienced, without reacting to or judging
that experience. This is seen as helping the meditator learn to
experience thoughts and emotions in normal daily life with greater
balance and acceptance.
TM originated in the Vedic tradition in
India. It is a type of
meditation that uses a mantra (a word, sound, or phrase repeated
silently) to prevent distracting thoughts from entering the mind. The
intent of TM might be described as allowing the mind to settle into a
quieter state and the body into a state of deep rest. This is seen as
ultimately leading to a state of relaxed alertness.
component of traditional Chinese medicine that combines movement,
meditation, and controlled breathing. The intent is to improve blood
flow and the flow of qi.
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